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Intra-annual dynamics of water stress in the central Indian Highlands from 2002 to 2012


India’s continued development depends on the availability of adequate water. This paper applies a data-driven approach to estimate the intra-annual dynamics of water stress across the central Indian Highlands over the period 2002–2012. We investigate the spatial distribution of water demanding sectors including industry, domestic, irrigation, livestock and thermal power generation. We also examine the vulnerability of urban centers within the study area to water stress. We find that 74 % of the area of the central Indian Highlands experienced water stress (defined as demand exceeding supply) for 4 or more months out of the year. The rabi (winter) season irrigation drives the intra-annual water stress across the landscape. The Godavari basin experiences the most surface water stress while the Ganga and Narmada basins experience water stress due to groundwater deficits as a result of rabi irrigation. All urban centers experience water stress at some time during a year. Urban centers in the Godavari basin are considerably water stressed, for example, Achalpur, Nagpur and Chandrapur experience water stress 8 months out of the year. Irrigation dominates water use accounting for 95 % of the total water demand, with substantial increases in irrigated land over the last decade. Managing land use to promote hydrologic functions will become increasingly important as water stress increases.

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  1. For the purpose of this study the Ganga Basin is comprised of the headwaters of the Kali Sindh, Chambal Lower, Yamuna Lower, Tons and Sone sub-basins.

  2. Cattle, water buffalo, camels, mithun, yak, horses, mules, donkeys, goats, pigs, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, ducks, poultry farms, and dogs.

  3. The estimated ratio of kharif to rabi season water withdrawals is 0.41, the ratio of pumping hours between the two seasons recorded in the MI data is 0.45.





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We acknowledge the extensive use of MODIS data from NASA and ASTER DEM data from NASA/METI. We would also like to thank the Central Government India (GOI) and State Government of Madhya Pradesh (GOMP) for making available a rich set of data to carry out this work, including the 18th Round of Livestock Census data from Department of Animal Husbandry (GOI), the Minor Irrigation Census data Rounds 2, 3 and 4 from Department of Water Resource (GOI), Environmental Clearance letter from the Ministry of Environment (GOI), Survey of India (GOI), Department of Forests and Climate Change, Madhya Pradesh (GOMP), data from the Green Clearance Watch and data for major irrigation schemes made available by the Water Resources Department, Madhya Pradesh (GOMP).

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Correspondence to Benjamin Clark.

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Clark, B., DeFries, R. & Krishnaswamy, J. Intra-annual dynamics of water stress in the central Indian Highlands from 2002 to 2012. Reg Environ Change 16 (Suppl 1), 83–95 (2016).

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  • Water stress
  • WaSSI
  • Central India
  • Water demand
  • Irrigation